Sharma Seeks Meeting With Modi

Virendra Sharma promoting science at an event in Parliament


The senior Labour parliamentarian is looking for a meeting to discuss the impact of demonetisation on NRIs/OCIs….writes Ashis Ray

Virendra Sharma promoting science at an event in Parliament

Mr Virendra Sharma, Member of Parliament for Ealing Southall, has sought a meeting with Narendra Modi next week to convey grievances of non-resident Indians (NRIs) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) over the Indian government’s  demonetisation of currency notes on Nov.8. Mr Sharma represents a constituency where a significant section of the population are migrants from Indian Punjab.

Sharma, who is also the chairman of the British All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for India, will be leading a delegation of this body on a visit to India starting 11 February. He confirmed: “I have asked for an appointment with Mr Modi.” This request was conveyed through the Indian High Commission in the United Kingdom, who are arranging the APPG’s visit.

NRIs and OCIs are, according to Sharma, distraught about the distress or a downright dishonouring of legal tenders caused by Narendra Modi’s demonetisation of Rs1,000 and Rs500 currency notes. The move has resulted in UK-based persons left with old notes having difficulty changing these into new ones or not being able to change them at all.

Sharma added, OCIs who did not convert the old notes into new ones within 50 days of the demonetisation announcement cannot do so any more. Therefore, they have lost the money they held and would have used on future visits to India.

NRIs can still surrender the old notes and receive new money. But they can only do so at the limited number of offices of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) – which like the Bank of England is India’s central bank. Such offices exist only in India’s big cities. However, Sharma has received complaints from several of his constituents to say they were refused the facility at RBI’s Chandigarh office and were asked to go to Delhi for the purpose.

In fact, Sharma flagged the problem soon after the demonetisation move on the part of Modi. In a letter to the latter on 15 November, he stated: “I am writing to you to seek assurances for my constituents, NRIs across the UK and the world that the Indian Government’s move to remove 500 and 1000 Rupee notes from circulation will not hurt them financially.”

He added: “At this time I have not heard of a proposal that would allow them to exchange this currency in the UK, rather they are required to return to India. Paying for this return trip would cost the same, if not more, than the money for conversion. This is not a large sum of money we are discussing, but for many of my less well-off constituents it is important.”

A currency note anywhere in the world is legal tender. Its validity is as is clearly printed on notes in India “guaranteed by the central government”. Furthermore, each note is signed by the Governor of the RBI below a message which says “I promise to pay the bearer the sum of (the value of the note)”.

The guarantee and the promise is made to any and every person, Indian or a foreign, who is in possession of Indian currency notes. Modi’s demonetisation has, therefore, violated a solemn legal assurance.

On the one hand NRIs are being harassed. They are having to go from pillar to post to dispose off old current notes. As for OCI, after the cut-off date, they have been left high and dry and completely dispossessed. Some have tens of thousands of rupees of old currencies, which are now invalid, for no fault of theirs. Unsurprisingly, NRIs and OCIs are angry; and Sharma’s pro-activity reflects this.

Gujaratis, the other big Indian origin community in Britain, are also aggrieved. A weekly newspaper published in Britain and aimed at Gujaratis headlined in its latest issue: “Should NRIs just burn away their old cash?”

It is understood the High Commission – in response to the feelings of the Indian community – recommended to its government that state-owned Indian banks be permitted to accept old currency notes in the UK, with reimbursement in India. But this suggestion has so far not been adhered to.